About Me

My photo
Grassroots activist, feminist, sociologist, poop talk pro, future foster mom, travel whore, thrift store junky, music and food consumer.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lynching Era: Black Women and Rape

The fact that black women were telling their stories and the stories were widely published in contemporary media sources makes me wonder how decades later the dominant narrative is still of white women being raped frequently and brutally by black men. If you've been following the blog then you know my research is dark and sad stuff, with that said...this post is definitely rated M for mature!
Southern black women were put in a position where they were posited as whores who willingly participated in sexual intercourse with white men. These conversations usually took place in a courtroom or a newspaper covering the trial whenever a case was brought to trial (McGuire 2010). This characterization imposed by the dominant group was in direct contrast to the stories that the women told. This contrast is why it is imperative that the oppressed group be at the center of analysis as Standpoint theory suggests. If there was only a reliance on the dominant group’s interpretation then black women would only be seen through their lens, and thus as hypersexual women who did not mind being beaten and raped on the regular. Black women did tell their stories throughout the lynching era. They told their stories for decades, but were never granted the same lawful justice white women were even when their perpetrators confessed as in the case of Betty Jean Owens.

Betty Jean Owens (McGuire 2010:160-187): She was sitting in a car at a park with friends after a concert. Held at knife and gunpoint by four white men, she was ordered out of the car. She was forced to her knees and pushed inside their car. She was driven to the edge of town and raped seven times by them. Her friends went to the police where they lucked up on an intern who agreed to search for her. The four men sent the officer on a chase. When the officer finally approached the men and ordered them out of the car, muffled screams led to the discovery of Ms. Owens in the backseat laying gagged and bound on the floorboards.

As Ida B. Wells acknowledged in a speech from her famous anti-lynching crusade, “The rape of helpless Negro girls, which began in slavery days, still continues without reproof from church, state or press” (Giddings 1984:31; quoted in McGuire 2010:xiv). In so many cases, black women told their stories to courtrooms filled with people from both sides of the color line while they had to testify as an attempt to prove their victimization. They also told their stories to church rooms, living rooms, and meeting rooms filled with other black women and men. Though the occurrence of black women being raped by white men was so common and so commonly followed by threats to families if anyone spoke out about it, black women still told their stories in hopes of making their voices heard by a wider audience. Collective violence and the inclusion of large scale rape were a part of the circumstances through which their experiences existed.

Mrs. Recy Taylor (McGuire 2010:xv-xvii): She was walking home from church and six white men took her by knife and gunpoint. She was taken into the woods and forcibly raped by all of them. She was a black woman, married with a child. They were young white men expressing their right over all women.

Gertrude Perkins (McGuire 2010:64): Walking home after midnight from a party when a squad car stopped her and forced her into the back of the car. The officers drove to the edge of town and dragged her behind a building and repeatedly raped her at gunpoint. They then forced her back into their car and dropped her off in the middle of town where they left her.

Annette Butler, 16yrs old (McGuire 2010:142-146): Four white men carried her by automobile from her home by gunpoint. They drove her to the swamp and took turns raping her. They left her there in the swamp half naked.

Liza Bramlett (Lee 1999:9,11; cited in McGuire 2010:191): An ex-slave and Grandmother of activist Fannie Lou Hamer, told her story of how white men would trade her body for livestock after a period of time in which they used her body for sexual indiscretions. This was such the theme of her life that twenty of her twenty-three children were born as products of rape conducted in this fashion.

Fannie Lou Hamer recalled the stories that her mother and grandmother had told her and after an involuntary appendectomy, she concluded that a black woman’s body was never hers alone (Lee 1999:9-10; cited in Mcguire 2010:191-192). Endesha Ida Mae Holland drew the same conclusion. Upon observing life in the Delta where she resided, she estimated that three-fourths of the women and girls had been victims of rape (Holland 1997:85,90; quoted in McGuire 2010:203):

Folks used to tell how, in the South no white man wanted to die without having sex with a black woman. It was just seen as part of life and if you…were black, you were always at the mercy of white people. You didn’t need to be sitting babies or cleaning houses to fall victim to the white man’s lust. We could just as easily be picking cotton or walking to the store or spending money in the white man’s store when the mood strike him and he’d take us – just like that, like lightning strike.

The large scale raping of black women was utilized as a means to maintain the human hierarchy, in which Western European white men dominate all others. The rape of black women during the lynching era, in which black men were killed, was a terror tactic to demonstrate to blacks that their destined position was beneath whites; they were less than human.
Giddings, Paula. 2008. When and Where I enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York:Morrow.

Holland, Endesha Ida Mae. 1997. From the Missippi Delta: A Memoir. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Lee, Chana Kai. 1999. For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

McGuire, Danielle. 2010. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance--A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Alfred A. Knopf: New York.


  1. Wow this saddens my heart and it's unfortunate this major atrocity has yet to get the mass coverage it deserves throughout history to the present age;whether it be in academia or media sources. The saddest thing about it is,apathy is rampant in the black community or ignorance displayed of not knowing how to be proactive when horrific crimes committed against our black women such as these transpire. I thank you so much for this blog entry. It further reveals to me the inequality of justice shown towards us, the black woman. And further reminds me, in the words of Ghandi, to basically be the change i want to see. My prayers to all those victimized & affected by the silence, ignorance and evil of this violation committed not just against a woman's body but also, against her mind, soul and spirit as well.

  2. First, I'm glad somebody had something to say PUBLICALLY! But yes, rape damages beings on so many levels. Made me smile to see that you understand that. There are so many women who think they are alone or that having it happen to them makes them weak, so they don't speak out. But when I think of how strong these women had to be to speak out,especially considering how dangerous it was then, I know that I can't just sit around and let people keep walking around ignorant.